Army Reforms: Why Moving Rashtriya Rifles HQ to J&K is Dangerous
A few media reports have indicated that as a part of its reorganisation effort, there is a proposal by the Army Headquarters (HQ) to shift the Directorate General of Rashtriya Rifles (DGRR) from New Delhi to Kashmir or Udhampur, ostensibly to take charge of the counter-terror (CT) operations in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
Additionally, the suggestion could also have come to relieve HQ 15 Corps from the counter-terrorism responsibility.
What exactly is the Rashtriya Rifles (RR)? Is it similar to the Assam Rifles (AR) which fights the insurgency in the North East and has its HQ (DGAR) in Shillong, in closer proximity to the areas of the deployment of the AR? Is a similar model as the HQ DGAR being contemplated to set up HQ DGRR in the counter-insurgency zone in J&K?
The Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles are the only two paramilitary forces (PMF) in India which support the Army. The Coast Guard (CG) supports the Navy and is the third PMF.
The AR is the oldest PMF. Its manpower is recruited on a permanent basis, on terms and conditions akin to the police. But it is officered by Indian Army officers on deputation with a small percentage of cadre officers of the AR – the cadre officers do not command the units.
The DGAR is the controlling HQ and is responsible for the administration, discipline, financial management, equipment and move of the units. The operational deployment remains with the Army formations or AR HQ Force (IG)/sectors, but directly under the Army’s different Corps HQ deployed at Dimapur or Tezpur.
It has remained an effective working model, albeit operations and non-operational logistics being under Army and AR respectively.
Rashtriya Rifles: India’s Finest Military Experiment
Rashtriya Rifles, a later creation, was set up in 1991 to fight the Punjab militancy and relieve the Army from the counter-terrorism grid. However, with the advent of militancy, terrorism and proxy wars in J&K, its role immediately switched to the Kashmir theatre.
Its units, all approximately 1200-strong, work under Rashtriya Rifles Sector HQ and Force HQ (light division size). The manpower comes from the Army as also the officers, from all Arms and Services. Many of the RR units remain deployed under direct command and control of Army brigades and divisions, especially at the LoC.
The DGRR located in Delhi is the controlling authority or line directorate, who, much like DGAR, performs the same tasks but does not have the organisation of an operational HQ, unlike the HQ DGAR.
RR Relocation to Kashmir Historically Dangerous
It would be unfair to compare the operational employment, deployment and command and control of the two forces, as they function in completely different environments.
The DGRR in Delhi is much leaner and under the current structure, it cannot function as an operational HQ, unlike the HQ DGAR, which is organised almost on the pattern of a Corps HQ of the Army with separate domain-related branches.
Very few would be aware that the DGRR had once moved to Srinagar to assume charge of the operational CT grid and relieve HQ 15 Corps of the responsibility of the hinterland operations, leaving it free to conduct counter-infiltration and LoC-based operations.
DGRR was given the grandiose title of HQ Overall Force Commander (OFC) in June 1999 and assumed charge when HQ 15 Corps was under intense pressure due to the Kargil intrusion.
Additional officers and other staff were posted to make up the strength. HQ 15 Corps was then responsible for the area from Demchok in East Ladakh to Gulmarg. The acrimony between HQ 15 Corps and HQ OFC was something unbelievable and I experienced it first-hand.
The rancor led to enhanced infiltration, triggering of a flurry of so-called Fidayeen actions by the terrorists and loss of much ground that had been gained through 1991-98. Division of responsibility for counter-infiltration and counter-terror operations is an unthinkable measure as there is intrinsic intelligence and operational linkage from the adversary launch pad right across the LoC to the reception area and safe houses in the hinterland.
Better sense prevailed after the completion of Operation Vijay, with HQ OFC being converted to HQ 14 Corps to take responsibility of Ladakh sector and the DGRR element returning safely to Delhi to resume its line directorate duties.
Why HQ 15 Corps Know Kashmir Best
It must be remembered that the unity of command is the acme of success in operations. If the Kashmir Valley is to have two large operational HQ it will adversely affect civil military relations, intelligence and cooperation between the deployed elements of the Army and the RR.
Besides anything else, HQ 15 Corps as a virtual lead organisation has successfully thwarted Pakistan’s deep state and the Separatists; if anything, it is political initiatives which remain and completion of the mainstreaming of the population. In the latter issue, there is no better organisation which understands the pulse of Kashmir. Its responsibility of the LoC and the LAC in Ladakh, unwieldy as it was, was reduced post the raising of HQ 14 Corps in 1999.
With hindsight and a peek into lessons of the past, the Army would do well to let the status quo remain. Those who learn from history are never condemned to repeat it.
(Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain is a former GOC of the army’s 15 Corps and now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)